Christopher Forbes, a director and producer, has worked on many films, including 13 that involved horses. Some of the more notable productions include Billy the Kid and The War Riders. He gives us a behind-the-scenes look on horses in the film industry, and some advice for those looking to get into the business.
1. What exactly does the job of a producer/director entail?
The producer hires everyone, rents the locations, hires the animals and trainers, etc.
2. What productions have you worked on?
I’m on my 23rd feature film. Eight of these have been westerns and five Civil War films that focused on cavalry regiments.
3. How did you become a producer/director?
I went to film school at Columbia College in Chicago and graduated a long time ago (1983). Worked a variety of film related jobs and started making features in 2001.
4. What do you enjoy most about working with horses?
They don’t complain as much as the other actors. Seriously, they are amazing creatures that, of course, add a huge amount of production value to any production I am doing.
5. How do you decide which horse to use in each scene?
I always listen to the owners and/or handlers in regards to this. Different horses are like different people, and temperaments, of course, vary.
6. What is your most memorable moment regarding horses?
In my most recent film, Jesse James vs the Black Train, I was able to travel at high speed in the back of a truck with a camera while a group of men on horseback tore through the countryside right next to me. That was a rush!
7. What advice would you give for those looking to become a producer/director?
Keep pushing at it. If you give up, it won’t happen. There was an 18-year gap between my last year at film school and my first directorial feature. That was a long time!
8. What difficulties do you have when it comes to directing horses, as compared to directing people? Is there anything that is easier?
There are many similarities to a human cast. When horses are tired, they need to rest. When they are hungry, they need to eat. Very important, they have to be kept hydrated, just like us. Since they don’t have lines to deliver, that alone makes them easier to work with. I respect these animals and have credited them in each of my films along with the rest of the cast.
9. What is the most complicated scene you’ve have had to direct, involving horses?
It’s tricky when there are large groups of horses in scenes that involve gunfire. Of course, we always use blanks, but they are still loud. Our best bet here has been to use horses that have been involved in re-enactments. That way they have had experience with loud sharp noises and it won’t send them running for the hills, which has happened.
10. Any other advice to give?
If, as a director, you feel that the shot you are trying to get is possibly too dangerous for your actors, then it is most likely too dangerous for horses as well. Don’t expect horses to do anything you would be concerned about with people, whether it’s working for long periods in severe heat or cold, or racing across terrain they are unfamiliar with. Treat them as part of your family.